However, the unexpected closure of the solar plant does not pose a major threat to the Kingdom's electricity supply

The closure of Noor III raises questions about the safety and efficiency of large-scale solar installations in Morocco

Vista aérea de la central solar marroquí Noor 3 en Ouarzazate, en el centro de Marruecos - FOTO/AP
Aerial view of the Moroccan solar power plant Noor 3 in Ouarzazate, central Morocco - PHOTO/AP

The unexpected closure of the Noor III plant, a solar power complex in Morocco, diminishes the Kingdom's ambitions in terms of energy transition. This decision raises crucial questions related to the reliability of the chosen infrastructures and puts the debate on the diversification of energy storage solutions on the table.

The Noor III solar power plant, located in the Ouarzazate region, has been forced to shut down as a matter of urgency due to a leak detected in its molten salt tank. This decision, announced by Acwa Power, the company responsible for the operation of the plant, is a blow to the renewable energy sector in Morocco, an industry in which the country is positioning itself as a key player at regional and international level. 

In an official statement, Acwa Power described the incident as a "major technical failure", highlighting the considerable financial consequences that could amount to up to 47 million dollars. This unexpected disruption to operations at Noor III highlights the challenges facing large-scale energy infrastructure and raises critical questions about the reliability and safety of solar installations. 

In this regard, Amin Bennouna, an energy expert, explained to L'Opinion that "the leak detected in the Noor III molten salt tank presents a major challenge". With a tank the size of a three-storey building, its repair requires a complex process that will take "a long time". "The tank must be emptied, repaired and then refilled, which takes several months. This highlights the challenges of maintaining large-scale solar installations," he says.  

As recalled by the Moroccan media, Noor Ouarzazate III stands out for its innovative central tower technology with molten salt storage, a design developed by the Sener group. 

AFP/FADEL SENNA - Un trabajador se encuentra frente a un panel solar que forma parte del proyecto de energía solar Noor 1 en Ouarzazate
A worker stands in front of a solar panel that is part of the Noor 1 solar power project in Ouarzazate - AFP/FADEL SENNA

This advanced technology was designed to optimise thermodynamic efficiency and solar energy management to meet the needs of the electricity grid, even during periods without sunshine. However, this incident highlights the potential vulnerabilities of these systems, despite their sophistication. 

However, the shutdown of Noor III due to supply disruptions does not pose a major threat to Morocco's electricity supply, as production from Noor's other power plants and other energy sources is sufficient to cover the shortfall.  

Bennouna stresses that Noor III, which is part of the entire Noor Ouarzazate complex, 'represents a capacity of 580 megawatts'. "In detail of the complex, composed of Noor I, II, III and IV, the Noor Ouarzazate tower plant, which is Noor III, contributes 150 megawatts out of a total capacity of 680 megawatts," he says.  

PHOTO/REUTERS - Planta de energía termosolar se muestra en Noor II Ouarzazate, Marruecos
Solar thermal power plant is shown at Noor II Ouarzazate, Morocco - PHOTO/REUTERS 

"In terms of annual production, the entire Noor Ouarzazate complex produces around 1,800 gigawatt hours per year, of which the tower alone accounts for around 30 per cent of this production, or around 480 gigawatt hours per year," continues Bennouna, who qualifies that, in comparison, "Morocco's total electricity production amounts to around 42,000 gigawatt hours per year, which means that Noor III's contribution represents only 1.5 per cent of the country's total electricity production." Therefore, the analyst considers that there is no need to "panic about the closure of Noor III due to supply disruptions".  

The Noor solar complex in Morocco uses solar thermodynamic technology, which allows energy to be stored as heat in molten salts. This technology has the advantage of being able to store large amounts of energy for long periods, making it an attractive solution for large-scale storage. 

However, it is important to note that molten salt storage does not store electricity directly, but heat. This heat is then used to produce steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. This process involves energy losses, which means that the overall efficiency of the system is lower than that of other storage technologies. 

AFP/FADEL SENNA - Una vista aérea de los espejos solares de la planta de energía solar concentrada Noor 1, próxima a la ciudad de Ouarzazate
An aerial view of the solar mirrors of the Noor 1 concentrated solar power plant near the city of Ouarzazate - AFP/FADEL SENNA 

"Distribution managers are not in favour of managing variable energy sources such as solar or wind. It is easier for them to manage production when it is stored," says Bennouna, who believes that the ideal is to be able to produce electricity and store it for later use.  

This issue, linked to Noor, has generated debate as the chosen technology, solar thermodynamics, is less common but allows for storage. "In short, there are other ways of storing electricity besides molten salt storage, because molten salt storage does not store electricity but heat," says Amin Bennouna.  

The forced closure of Noor III raises concerns about the safety and reliability of large-scale solar installations, but also provides an opportunity to re-evaluate technological approaches and risk management strategies, notes L'Opinion. 

Solar complex in Ouarzazate - PHOTO/FILE

As the world strives to transition to an economy based on cleaner, renewable energy, investment in research and development is needed to ensure the sustainability and resilience of the energy infrastructure of the future.

In the meantime, the resumption of Noor III activities is expected, not only for its contribution to the energy transition and the reduction of carbon emissions, but also for its crucial role in regional economic development. On the other hand, it is essential that this recovery is accompanied by rigorous measures aimed at strengthening the reliability and safety of solar installations, while stimulating innovation and promoting a more resilient and sustainable energy transition.